France’s fanatical secularism hides behind a thin veil of privilege and elitism, while the country’s toxic Islamophobia which persecutes and oppresses Muslim women exposes the hypocrisy of the French Republic. Nothing else explains the French ban on girls in state schools wearing abayas, sparking a fresh row over secularism and women’s clothing. Education minister Gabriel Attal said that the long, flowing dresses worn by some Muslim women would no longer be allowed at the start of the new school term because they violate the secular principle of laïcité.
Nevertheless, it is a fair guess to say that Attal was one of the many French ministers fawning over the haute couture Dior “abaya” worn by Britain’s Queen Camilla at the dazzling Versailles banquet during the state visit to France alongside King Charles III. They met French President Emmanuel Macron and First Lady Brigitte Macron at the palace. On what was the first official state visit since Charles ascended to the throne, only a wardrobe of discerning decadence would suffice for the queen.
The double standards exposed the hypocrisy, racism and Islamophobia that is the norm in Macron’s France.
In fact, Brigitte Macron was also wearing a sweeping, full-length, arms-covered gown that would pass muster in any Islamic environment. The double standards exposed the hypocrisy, racism and Islamophobia that is the norm in Macron’s France.
“I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools,” Attal told French television. “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them.” So, what did Attal make of the Dior abaya worn by Queen Camilla, I wonder?
Columns and columns of glowing praise were heaped on it by the likes of Tatler, Harpers Bazaar, Hello! and most of the London and Parisian newspapers. Yet the same sort of dress would have seen any Muslim pupil banned from entering an educational building under the wretched Attal’s watch.
Of course, the French Establishment and media baroque treatment of Muslims is nothing new. Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan is a classic example of the double standards at play in a country burdened by its own brutal history of colonialism and slavery.
In 2018, Ramadan spent 10 months in a Paris jail without charge. He was eventually freed, but only under strict bail conditions. Then in 2020 around 150 international scholars, politicians, social activists and journalists, including myself, described events as a “masquerade of justice” with biased judges ignoring crucial evidence and a judicial process that assumed his guilt before any trial took place.
Far-right commentators across Europe piled on the pressure in what I have described as a witch-hunt. In one interview with a French newspaper, Ramadan called himself the victim of “a fierce judicial process”. There were, he pointed out, five complaints against him in France, with a sixth in Switzerland. “The complainants lied. Most of these women know each other and are in league with my worst ideological enemies… The first two complainants, who claimed not to know each other, exchanged more than 350 texts with journalist Caroline Fourest [a fierce opponent of his] six months before and after the complaint.”
Whatever happened to the motto of the French Revolution: liberté, égalité, fraternité
Clearly, then, as now, the French interpretation of laïcité is at odds with the way that the republic polices its Muslim citizens. Whatever happened to the motto of the French Revolution: liberté, égalité, fraternité? The French are all too keen to remind us that men and women are born equal and remain free, but if you are a Muslim in France, especially a Muslim woman, you most certainly do not enjoy liberty, equality and fraternity. Moreover, only abayas created by Dior and worn by royalty will be given the red-carpet treatment. It really is sickening.
Police purges on Islamically-correct beachwear which began in the summer of 2016 with a ban on the burkini started the most recent rot; since then, every year some type of clothing has been targeted by the Islamophobic state. Sadly, though, the French authorities are still blind to their hypocrisy and shortcomings; they continue to ignore the social unrest in Muslim and black communities. The existence of predominantly North African communities is only recognised when the state needs some media-induced hysteria about the lack of integration in society.
The reality is that social exclusion, unemployment and disenfranchisement are just some of the areas that have a negative impact on such communities. French politician Nadine Morano illustrated the problem precisely when she described France as “a Jewish-Christian country… of white race, which takes in foreigners.” Such views are the problem.
Her words in September 2015 were lapped up by those elements of the Israeli media which seize on any Islamophobic content coming out of France, even though this particular politician has a reputation for gaffes and unguarded Twitter comments. The so-called foreigners described by Morano exclude, presumably, her mother, who was from an Italian family. What she really means are the black and Arab communities with backgrounds in France’s former colonies. Their cultures and religions cannot be airbrushed from the French landscape simply because their presence is seen as an inconvenience to an increasingly racist state.
The French could easily improve integration and equality of opportunity for everyone who can trace their roots back to the French colonies, but it doesn’t play well with the French brand of secularism. Whenever I’ve raised the issue I’m told that France’s colonial history in North Africa is no longer relevant and we must look to the future. I’m married to an Algerian and his adverse reaction to such dinner table chatter tells me that it will take a lot more than a dose of French laïcité for Algeria, the land of a million martyrs, to move on.
French citizens tend to feign blindness to the diversity in their society and ignore concerns about racist tendencies. Meanwhile, the effective ban on French Muslims being able to express their faith or wear distinct clothing is being reinforced on an almost daily basis. Instead of building bridges between communities within his own country, Macron is taking a wrecking ball to them.
The French president simply refuses to see, hear or speak of the double standards at play in France, as was demonstrated when Queen Camilla swept into the banquet that he hosted in the Hall of Mirrors in the Chateau de Versailles. It’s just as well that the racist police officers in Nice who fined a Muslim woman at the popular beach resort for “not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism” weren’t on duty.
So it’s time for France to change, rather than expect its citizens to abandon all they hold dear. In the meantime, forget about liberté, égalité, fraternité; the French motto really ought to be “bigoterie, duplicité, hypocrisie”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.